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Leah Gardner, outreach coordinator with the Minnesota Budget Project, speaks Thursday evening during the Bemidji Conversation on the State Budget. Shown behind her is Commissioner Tony Sertich of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, who also provided insight in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Dayton plan faces scrutiny in Bemidji

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By Molly Miron, Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Government budgets are not simply numbers. They also reflect the state residents’ values.

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“If our budget were just a math problem, it would be very easy,” said Tony Sertich, Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioner for Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, featured speaker for the Community Conversation on the State Budget Thursday evening at the Sanford Center, sponsored by Invest in Minnesota, the ALCU Racial Justice Project and Community Resource Connections.

Sertich provided an overview of the governor’s proposed budget, as well as its effects on the Bemidji area.

“My boss believes strongly in having an honest budget with no gimmicks,” Sertich said.

Sertich said the governor has determined that the state will have no one-time fixes or borrowing to balance the budget, as in the past. He said Dayton’s plan would also invest in job creation and education, require the richest two percent of the population to pay more fairly and give all Minnesotans the best value for their money.

Sertich listed Dayton’s priorities for the long term as investments in young children with all-day, every-day kindergarten and scholarships for early childhood education; all students graduating from high school; affordable college degrees; a competitive workforce; and economic growth to create jobs.

This means, Sertich said, that every homestead would receive a $500 property tax rebate, 98 percent of Minnesotans would see no income tax increase, 11,000 students would receive early learning scholarships, kindergarten through 12 grade would receive $52 increase per student statewide, 85 percent of kindergartners would have all-day school and 5,000 higher education students would find college more affordable.

Sertich likened the current tax arrangement as out of kilter with 40 percent of state revenue from property tax, 33 percent from income tax and 27 percent from sales tax. The governor’s proposal would result in 34 percent from property tax, 34 percent from income tax and 32 percent from sales tax. Changes would include taxes on services as well as products, with food, home purchases and health care exempt.

Audience members with particular interests asked for consideration in increasing their share of the funding. Becky Schueller of Evergreen Youth & Family Services cited the poverty of the Beltrami County area and asked for consideration of housing needs. When funding is cut, she said, rural areas are often neglected in favor of urban centers. The Rev. Bob Kelly of People’s Church focused on help for the people with the greatest needs. Bart Appleton of Education Minnesota cited student and school support. Bill Batchelder described the “devastating effects” of the proposed tax on clothing items of more than $100. Former Rep. Dave Hancock challenged the $500 property tax rebate plan as simply shifting money from one source to another.

And Warren Larson, speaking on behalf of the American Cancer Society, asked that the legislature raise the cigarette tax by $1.50 rather than the 94 cents currently proposed. He said he wasn’t interested in the increase as a revenue stream, but as a discouragement to youngsters who might avoid starting smoking, and encouragement for adult smokers to quit.

Sertich said Dayton has invited residents to review the proposed budget details, continue the conversation and offer suggestions by visiting www.mn.gov/governor/budget.

Local effects of Dayton’s budget

For a household in Beltrami County with the $61,202 median income and $148,300 median home:

— $500 property tax rebate.

— Increase in income tax rate for 128 area taxpayers who are in the top 2 percent (taxable income above $250,000 for a married couple, $200,000 for heads of households and $150,000 for single filers).

— $300 for each of 1,602 Bemidji State University students who receive State Grant Program funding.

— 13.3 percent property tax reduction for Beltrami County homeowners.

— 2 percent property tax reduction for Beltrami County businesses.

— $404 funding increase per student in the Bemidji School District.

— $2.1 million total funding increase for the Bemidji School District.

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